Release Date: April 1 2014
Lexi has a secret. She never meant for her mom to find out. And now she’s afraid that what’s left of her family is going to fall apart for good. Lexi knows she can fix everything. She can change. She can learn to like boys. New Horizons summer camp has promised to transform her life, and there’s nothing she wants more than to start over. But sometimes love has its own path…
Thoughts on The Summer I Wasn’t Me
I don’t want to spend too much time on my review because I have a fantastic interview with Jessica Verdi below, which really gets into the book and touches upon many of the reasons that I loved it.
So I’ve already given away that I loved this book. But now you want to know why you should read it right?
The first, and perhaps most upfront, reason why is because it deals with a very real, very present issue that is happening throughout North America right now – reparative therapy (or “pray the gay away”). I think a lot of people have probably heard that term thrown around or heard the odd story about these camps but may not know just how horrible and abusive they really are. Verdi’s The Summer I Wasn’t Me sheds light on what’s really going on. I know when I read this book I got angry. I was furious and frustrated and disgusted that this was allowed to happen. And that parents would actually send their kid to these places instead of loving them for who they are. I think any book that inspires that kind of emotional reaction is not only one worth reading, but one worth talking about.
I also really loved Lexi. I adored her independence, her stubbornness and how no matter how much the camp pushed her, she was determined to always push back, at least a little, so that she wouldn’t lose herself entirely. She goes willingly to the camp in an effort to fix her relationship with her mom. I think that sense of guilt and of family responsibility is something a lot of people can relate to – gay or straight.
And last but not least, in the heart of all this abuse and tragedy and heartache, is a love story. A story of two people coming together, even though circumstances are against them. Even though it seems impossible. Lexi and Carolyn bond over the Great Gatsby and I love when people come together through a shared reading experience. Their brief moments of happiness really helped to break up the tension and sadness of the rest of the book.
The Summer I Wasn’t Me will make you angry. It will frustrate you and unsettle you. But it will also inspire you and warm your heart. The characters Jessica Verdi has created are ones that will stay with you long after you go on this journey with them. It’s an important and necessary book and one that I can’t recommend enough.
Interview with Jessica Verdi
Welcome Jessica! To start things off could you describe The Summer I Wasn’t Me in 1-2 sentences.
A teen girl named Lexi voluntarily spends the summer at an ex-gay camp to try to save what’s left of her family. But while she’s there she meets a girl who she starts to have feelings for, and she must decide what’s most important.
Was there anything in particular that made you want to tell this story?
When I was toying with ideas for the topic of my second novel, this story really called out to me. I’ve always been fascinated by these so-called conversion camps, places where religious leaders claim they can turn gay kids straight. There is no doubt in my mind that they’re claiming to do the impossible, and that telling LGBTQ kids there’s something wrong with them is nothing short of abuse, but the root behind these camps actually, in a twisted way, stems from a good place. The parents who send their kids to these programs truly believe their children are on the wrong path in life and that they will go to hell if they don’t make a change. These parents are desperate to “save” their kids, in their own misguided way. This is something that has long intrigued me, and a world I knew I wanted to explore in the book.
But it all came together for me when, funnily enough, I was listening to Lady Gaga’s song “Hair.” The chorus of that song goes, “I just want to be myself and I want you to love me for who I am.” And I started thinking about all the kids who aren’t loved for who they are, and that made me so sad. And I knew I had to tell Lexi’s story.
I think a lot of people know about conversion camps but don’t know that much about them. What was the research process like for this book? What was the most surprising thing you learned?
The bulk of my research consisted of doing a lot of technical research on so-called “reparative therapy” (the techniques and methods they use, the argument for the work, etc.), reading first hand accounts from people who have been to camps like these, and watching several documentaries. Every single “exercise” you see in the book came from research—I didn’t make any of that stuff up, including the horrifying events that happen (no spoilers!) in Chapter 29. In fact, one of the hardest parts of my research was watching YouTube videos of that very type of thing. It was extremely difficult to watch kids going through something like that, but I knew I owed it to the accuracy of the story to get every detail, even ones as awful as that, correct. The most surprising thing I learned was probably how many kids go there willingly—I’d assumed most went against their will, but that’s often not the case.
Was there any part that was particularly difficult to write?
Chapter 29 was the hardest part for me to write. I won’t give any spoilers here, but it’s a scene that involves physical violence. I had to watch several YouTube videos as research for this scene and it was incredibly painful and horrifying.
So people don’t think this is a totally depressing read – Was there any part that was particularly fun to write?
I love all the moments where Lexi and Carolyn are writing notes to each other in Lexi’s copy of The Great Gatsby. I love watching them fall for each other via Fitzgerald’s book.
The Summer I Wasn’t Me is primarily Lexi’s story. Are there any characters you wish you could spend more time with?
I love my little band of four—Lexi, Carolyn, Daniel, and Matthew—so much. They’re all so different, but I understand them all in their own ways. If I had to pick only one, Matthew would be so much fun to hang out with—he’s hilarious and honest and brave. I think we’d be really good friends.
Your previous book, My Life After Now, looks at HIV, The Summer I Wasn’t Me, explores reparative therapy. Do you have some other issues you’d like to tackle in future books?
Oh man, SO MANY. My next book, which is called What You Left Behindand is coming out next Spring, explores grief and loss and guilt in a very big way. I’m really excited about it.
What was your writing process like for this book? Was it the same or different from My Life After Now?
My writing process is generally always the same—I work best in the morning, when my brain is fresh. And I have a full-time job, so I generally spend my weekends—all day Saturday and Sunday—working on my writing. I start in the morning, work until I can’t think straight anymore, and then repeat. Eventually the pages pile up and somehow form a book!
And on that note, do you have any advice for all the aspiring authors out there?
Just do it. I think we all get better with each book we write, and the only way to really develop your skills is to just keep writing and writing. I was also once given a great piece of advice that I’ll pass on here: Finish what you start. You often don’t know what a story really is until you get to the end of the first draft and can step away from it, look at it, and see the pieces fall together. Then you go back and revise, and it almost always ends up working better (and usually much differently) than you could have imagined when you started. But you won’t really know until you get to the end, so keep going! If it’s a project you’re really interested in and excited about, don’t give up at page 40 when it gets hard. You might be giving up on something amazing.
Thank you Jessica for stopping by!
Thanks to the lovely people at Sourcebooks I have 1 copy of The Summer I Wasn’t Me to giveaway. Just fill out the Rafflecopter below to enter. (US & Canada only)
About the Author
Jessica Verdi lives in Brooklyn, NY, and received her MFA in Writing for Children from The New School. She loves seltzer, Tabasco sauce, TV, vegetarian soup, flip-flops, and her dog. Visit her at jessicaverdi.com and follow her on Twitter @jessverdi.